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Criminal Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Coyne, Randall T.



Utilitarianism — punishment’s purpose is to prevent crime and it must serve a greater good.


i. Take criminal off street, less crime.

Deterrence — (General / Specific) focus on society / focus on criminal

i. Prevent future crimes by convicted. (Specific)
ii. Society sees crime is bad. (General)


i. Original goal of system.
ii. Reform defendant.

Retributivism — criminal punishment is justified as long as the offender is morally accountable, regardless of deterrence or good results. Punishment is justified when it is deserved.


i. Eye for an eye. Focus on crime, not actor; focus on past.
ii. Rebalances inequity caused by crime against society.


i. Condemning publicly
ii. Embarrass defendant

Due process prohibits retroactive application of any judicial construction of a criminal statute that is unexpected and indefensible by reference to the law which has been expressed prior to the conduct in issue
Art. I §9: no State shall pass any ex post facto law

Maximum Formula:

Crime = Actus Reus + Mens Rea + Attendant Circumstances + Causation + Harmful Result – Affirmative Defenses


Actus Reas can have some or all of these:
1. Past
2. Voluntary
3. Wrongful or potentially harmful
4. Conduct
5. Specified (due process: process is due when the D was put on notice and has an opportunity to be heard…otherwise unconstitutional)
· No crime w/o law; no punishment w/o law
6. In Advance
7. By Statute (no longer common law crimes)

Result offense is based on an outcome; murder (punishing an unwanted outcome, social harm)
Conduct offense is based on prohibited conduct, DWI (punishing a specific dangerous behavior, potential harm)

Necessity For Act/omission
Overt Act

Did D’s conduct consist of mere thoughts or words rather than acts? If Yes, Actus Reus not met

· Cannot punish thought/intent without an overt act (over act can’t be lawful)Proctor v. State

Did D’s conduct consist of his merely having a particular state or condition (e.g. having a drug-addiction)? If Yes, Actus Reus not met; Robinson v. CA Þ 8th Amd.

However alcoholism is not an excuse for public drunkenness…D convicted for being drunk not being a drunk; Powell v. TX

Was D’s act involuntary (e.g. a reflex, movement while unconscious or asleep, under hypnosis, etc.)? If Yes, Actus Reus not met

Voluntariness: a willed muscular contraction
Act must be voluntary

Involuntary acts: Can’t have brought the attack on themselves (e.g. driving knowing you have seizures; People v. Decina…the voluntary act was driving the car) and must be unaware of their actions

i. Reflex, convulsion or seizure
ii. Bodily movement during unconscious sleep – sleepwalking
iii. Conduct during hypnosis
iv. Shock – shot in stomach; reflex shock
v. Unconsciousness – bodily movement that is otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual
vi. Automatism:the state of a person who, though capable of action, is not conscious of what he is doing (automatism is not insanity)…it is the performance of involuntary acts that can be a simple of complex nature [involuntary movement] People v. Grant
vii. Was D forced to meet the act requirement?
1. People v. Newton: forced unintended landing of plane in certain jurisdiction should not subject that person to its laws for his previous actions
2. Martin v. State: drunk arrest in private and taken in public

Was the D’s act possession?

· MPC: Requirement of Voluntary Act-
(1) A person is not guilty of an offense unless his liability is based on conduct which includes a voluntary act
(4) Possession is an act, within the meaning of this Section, if the possessor knowingly procured or received the thing possessed or was aware of his control thereof for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate his possession

Possession: is an act if the possessor knowingly procured or received the thing possessed or was aware of his control thereof for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate his possession

Even though possession does not cause a harm but the risk of harm increases by possession

Constructive Possession: (1) effective power over the thing possessed and (2) the intention to control it (the D must know that what he possesses is an illegal substances e.g. drugs) U.S. v. Maldonado

§ Ability to destroy is evidence of control
§ Constructive possession can occur even though D lacks physical or mutual control if the circumstances permit a reasonable inference that he has knowledge of its presence and intends and has the capacity to exercise physical control or dominion over it during a span of time
§ When 2 individuals simultaneously and jointly acquire possession of a drug for their own use, intending only to share it together, they have not committed the crime of distribution

Did D’s conduct consist of a failure to act (omission)? If Yes, did D have a duty to the victim?

Did statute impose a duty on the D
D did have a special relationship w/ victim Jones v. US; failure to remove your child from imminent real peril (foreseeable risk) is gross (criminal) negligence Þ manslaughter; Palmer v. State
Did a contract exist that imposed a duty
Did D in some way cause a dangerous condition
Voluntary Assumption of care by created seclusion

Status Crimes

Cannot punish people merely for being member of a class.
Must be an overt act.


One may not be charged under a law that was yet to be established at the time of the crime.

Ex Post Facto: having retroactive force or effect (article I, section 9 and 10)
Due Process Notice: enable ordinary people to understand what conduct is prohibited…must be adequate notice w/ no vagueness and pro

the crime
iii. An actor intends the natural and probable results and the legal consequences of his conduct (proof not required)
iv. No specific mens rea requirement (morally blameworthy state of mind) and an actus reus required for conviction
v. Reserved for crimes that require lower level of culpability, such as recklessness or negligence; or
vi. Any mental state that refers only to the acts that constitute the offense (not special circumstances)

b. Specific Intent: Intent to do a certain specific act, which may not transfer to another act. Some acts are not wrong unless committed with a certain intent
i. May also refer to the mental element of the crime
ii. Or the unexecuted intent to commit a crime
iii. May refer to the specific intended result of the crime, meaning with intent/ intentionally
iv. Prosecutor must prove the D intended a particular result, or intended that his action have a particular legal consequence (purpose)
v. Purpose
vi. Specific intent crimes:
1. All offenses explicitly so defined by statute, they have the requisite mens rea defined, which is often purpose
2. All attempts
3. Any other crimes, like burglary and larceny, for which CL defined an intent element.
4. Intoxication, mistake of fact or law, etc. can negate required the intent…must be for each required element of the crime

Model Penal Code Approach to Mens Rea MPC 2.02

Elemental approach: the prosecutor must prove defendant had the particular state of mind required for each element of the material offense. The only exceptions to this are a small number of strict liability offenses defined in 2.05 that can only be punished by fines
A statute defining a crime, unless clearly indicating a legislative intent to impose strict liability, should be construed as defining a crime of mental culpability
A crime is one of “mental culpability” only when a mental state is required w/ respect to every material element of an offense
When only one such mental state appears in a statute defining an offense, it is presumed to apply to every element of the offense unless an intent to limit its application clearly appears
Material elements include: (1) nature of the conduct, (2) attendant circumstance, and (3) result of conduct
If no specific level of mens rea is specified, subsection (3) provides that recklessness, knowledge or purpose will satisfy that offense